Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Joplin R-8 Curriculum Director Sarah Stevens resigns

The cleanup of the mess former Superintendent C. J. Huff left for the Joplin R-8 School District appears to have begun.

Sarah Stevens, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, submitted her resignation and the Turner Report has confirmed she had already been relieved of her duties several days earlier and has been reassigned to other duties.

The Board of Education acted on her resignation during a closed session Tuesday night and will release the actions taken during that session on Friday afternoon, according to Board Secretary Pat Waldo.

The resignation was one of two accepted by the board. The other was high school counselor Lisa Sanders, who resigned due to health reasons. Sanders' position has already been advertised.

The resignation apparently brings an end to the meteoric rise of someone who had only two years of classroom experience to a position in upper administration, making $73,000 a year.

Stevens was hired by the R-8 District in 2004 and spent two years as an elementary teacher and one year as a librarian before being tabbed as a teaching/learning coach, a position that served as a springboard for those who wanted to climb the ladder in the school district.

Stevens was promoted to her current position in 2012, after serving four years as a coach. She had no background in curriculum, so the Huff Administration had to hire a "professional learning coordinator" to assist her after that lack of qualifications was cited by state auditors.

Stevens' constant pushing of outside consultant Paul Bloomberg and his Core Collaborative group brought her into the spotlight last year. Not only did Stevens work to get Core Collaborative a full-time gig in Joplin, but she also promoted the group heavily with other school districts.

The district's dealings with the Core Collaborative were approved by the Board of Education at its August 19, 2014, meeting as part of the consent agenda. As with many things the board approved as part of the consent agenda, it turned out to cost far more than what it said in the original document.

The document said "a discounted cost for the Core Collaborative to provide 12 days of training is $31,260, which includes all travel costs (airfare, hotel, rental car, and meals). We are being billed for 10 days of consultant training and are getting two days training free."

The proposal was submitted by Stevens and initialed by Huff and Executive Director of Elementary Education Jennifer Doshier.

The curriculum director and her colleagues were so impressed with Bloomberg and company they just had to bring him here and pull teachers out of their classrooms so he could train them.

Not only did they bring the training to Joplin, but they also ordered Common Core materials from Corwin Press, which is connected with Bloomberg and visible learning.

At the December 16 board meeting, another request came from Stevens, again initialed by Huff and Doshier, asking for another $64,680 for Bloomberg and Core Collaborative. This was on the board's consent agenda.

In the documentation for the request, Stevens explained it in this fashion:

Dr. Bloomberg's work this far has been well received and certain areas are asking for more time to collaborate with him. The work will focus on the "formative process" outlined in the professional development plan as well as Visible Learning work around self-regulated learning.

While the request stipulated that the amount will not exceed $64,680, the cost exceeded the total of that amount and the earlier $31,260, with three months to go.

With the election of Jeff Koch and Jennifer Martucci to the board in April, the idea of paying more than $100,000 for a consultant came under opposition and when it came time to renew the Core Collaborative contract, Stevens sent the following e-mail message to principals:

I will be taking the Core Collaborative contract to the board on Tuesday, May 26.
I am asking for a year long contract up to 30 days to include the days principals have asked for, departments have requested, and to finish helping with the bsip plans we have started and the work of self regulated learning. I will be also be including a couple of days for special ed iep work.
This is the same amount of days we used this year between three consultants with the Core Collaborative.

I would like a short blurb from you stating how the work we have embarked on this year with the core collaborative and visible learning has helped, guided, or changed the way your building is working together, performing, etc. If you feel inclined, include what you hope to gain from continuing this focus and support.

Please do not use the verbiage of Visible Learning since that technically was with Corwin, even though Paul (consultant Paul Bloomberg who heads the Core Collaborative) tied a lot of what we were doing all together to make it all fit. I will bring Visible Learning for Teachers to a different board meeting if JPDT votes to have it happen this summer. 

If you have teachers that have really taken hold of learning intentions, success criteria, feedback, impact (data) teams, etc. Please ask them to send me an email or quick video explaining. Even better would be to have the students speak (but that is short notice so I understand if that can't happen). 

I have several videos of students speaking on their learning, so if you have some great ones with the work you have been doing or want to brag on your school, now is the time!

At that meeting, Board President Jeff Koch asked Stevens if she would be able to provide the training the teachers needed if Core Collaborative was not retained.

Stevens said that while "professional development is my passion," she was "too busy" to do it.

Koch, Martucci and Debbie Fort voted against renewing the Core Collaborative contract, while Mike Landis and Lynda Banwart voted to continue with the group.

Despite the defeat, Stevens was not yet finished with her efforts to keep the expensive consultants employed in Joplin.

At the June 22 board meeting, she pleaded for the board to reconsider its vote. By this time, Landis had resigned and the Jasper County Commission appointed Gary Nodler, Sallie Beard, and Ron Gatz to fill the cacated spots of Landis, Randy Steele, and Lane Roberts.

Stevens said that teacher morale would suffer if Core Collaborative did not return. Under a new deal, the Collaborative would charge "only" $87,000 instead of $103,000.

In her reasons for wanting the board to reconsider its action, Stevens sent a proposal to the board members saying that not only would morale suffer but the district would be forced to pull teachers out of classes more often, teachers would have to take time with after-school professional development or book studies (which would have teachers getting paid rather than consultants), they might have to contract with other vendors which would cost more money and teachers would have to be sent all over the United States to get training which might not be passed on to the rest of the faculty.

The proposal was prepared by Stevens, and okayed by Huff and Doshier.

Stevens clearly thought she would have the support of the three new board members, but that did not turn out to be the case. Nodler rattled her with numerous questions about the need for the consulting firm.

When Martucci suggested that R-8 teachers could be better off providing the professional development themselves and would have more buy-in, Koch quickly agreed and Fort noted that the money that is earmarked for professional development could be spent in that fashion.

Executive Director of Secondary Education Jason Cravens did not think that was such a good idea. Teachers were too tired to want to make extra money, he insisted.

When the executive directors insisted the teachers and principals were not ready and needed Bloomberg to guide them through another year, Nodler was not buying any of it. "You don't need a consultant to hold your hand."

The vote was 4-3 with Nodler joining Koch, Martucci, and Fort.

A month later Stevens appeared with Bloomberg at a Visible Learning Conference in Texas, doing a presentation on the success the firm had in Joplin.

Even after this, Stevens was not done with Core Collaborative.

In July, after Norm Ridder replaced C. J. Huff, Stevens again pushed Core Collaborative sending out an e-mail to teachers asking them to share what they had learned from the group. Apparently, Stevens must have used those messages to bring back Bloomberg and Core Collaborative for a one-time shot, at a cost of $7,775.

At the October 27 board meeting, Ridder made it clear that there would be no more dealings with Core Collaborative. This took place right around the time Stevens was reassigned.


Anonymous said...

Doshier, you're next. For all of the under handed dealings and they way you have treated professional educators, you have no business being in any administrative capacity, let alone making the money you make. Do yourself, and everyone else a favor and resign before you are forced to resign.
I hope someone treats you as you have treated them, with a lot of disrespect. Written up for the stupidest of things. Called in on the carpet for doing what you said to do in the first place, using the phrase "several people have told me" when it was just one, and most of us who worked at McKinley knew exactly who your spies were. I just hope you lose sleep at night for all of the others you have caused to lose sleep, worry, and in an attempt to ruin thier career just so you could move up. Many will rejoice when they see that you have also been fired.

Anonymous said...

What was her reassignment? Is that why she resigned?
The Globe said there were 2 resignations and one would take effect at the end of the year. Who is that? Doshier?
Looks like 2 down...

Anonymous said...

I learned a few weeks ago that state law requires a lot of process to fire an administrator, including ratification by a "personnel committee" which is undefined in the law, but I'm sure it's been covered in case law, and we can imagine would be difficult to form a good one after Huff's and Besendorfer's packed the administration with their toadies. Especially after that, I've been patient with Ridder, but really wanted signs that things were significantly changing.

Now we have the first significant one, and hopefully we'll get some leaks about the process. Was she formally suspended? Was the reassignment a way of doing that in house, or is formal "get out of the building" suspension not required? Did she resign rather than face the required hearing, which would undoubtedly be ugly and further damage her career, such as it is?

Anyway, the process has been established, the purging of administrators has begun, and we'll see who's next.

Anonymous said...

Change We Can Believe In

Anonymous said...

Commenter at 7:17- Protip: Bandwidth is conserved when the entire post is read before commenting. As reported above:

"The resignation was one of two accepted by the board. The other was high school counselor Lisa Sanders, who resigned due to health reasons. Sanders' position has already been advertised."

Anonymous said...

Sanders' position has already been advertised.

When I read that, I wonder if Stevens' position will even be continued, and/or if the "professional learning coordinator" hired to actually do her official work is replacing her.

Anonymous said...

Check out video at link

All for the kids

Anonymous said...

Next up: Sweep away all of the TLCs. They should be given the option of going back into the classroom to actually WORK, or leaving the district. Those of you who have been complaining about Ridder and the new board, now you are finally seeing the housecleaning process in action. If Mr. Ridder is as wise as I think he is, he WILL get rid of the TLCs by the end of this school year. The $ paid to these unnecessary people should be used to hire teachers who actually work with kids. The TLCs were Besendorfer's pet project, a way to get her posse to surround her, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars attending workshops all over the country, and then act as spies in the buildings, and reporting back to her. Get rid of the TLCs next!!!

Anonymous said...

Now if they would just fire Melissa Winston from BFJ...

Anonymous said...

Today is GREAT day for Joplin Schools! With Stevens gone, teachers can finally believe there will be change. This can not be the end, Doshier must be next, then Smith, followed by the absolutely worthless TLC's!

Anonymous said...

Reading the state requirements (thanks, 3:39) it looks like there are a couple of avenues to removing unnecessary employees:
"Nothing herein shall in any way restrict or limit the powers of the board of education to make reductions in the number of employees because of insufficient funds or decrease in pupil enrollment or lack of work."

Anonymous said...

The next logical order of business is to demote Jason Cravens to building principal. Nice enough guy, but he desperately needs the experience! The buck has never stopped at HIS desk. He is way in over his head at central office, which will only be worse now that he is in charge of secondary curriculum (another arena where he has no knowledge or experience). We are all tired of pretending to respect people in admin who have neither the education nor the work experience to be there. Praying more big changes are soon to come for Joplin Schools!

Anonymous said...

You're welcome, 2:20 PM, and thanks. As for that last line in that section of law:

Nothing herein shall in any way restrict or limit the powers of the board of education to make reductions in the number of employees because of insufficient funds or decrease in pupil enrollment or lack of work.

This is where case law may be vital (interpretations of the law made by judges in individuals cases). At the higher levels Missouri judges are selected through the Missouri Plan, where the usual suspects control the possible nominations available to the Governor, and I think partly as a result of this they freely and all too frequently just ignore the very plain language of the law. In the area I track most closely, they've judicially nullified our strong Castle Doctrine.

Reexamining that law, I note that it seems to be restricted to "metropolitan districts", which I don't think includes Joplin. Although I would not be surprised to learn that the courts enforce this on districts like ours.

So while that quoted language sounds pretty clear, without consulting the case law we can't be sure how difficult it really is for Ridder to fire people, and it could even be much more difficult than the plain language of the law would seem to say. Something is prompting him to take this slowly, although it could be nothing more than avoiding creating too much chaos, especially right as a new school year started, and avoiding potential lawsuits, which we know the hard way is not a theoretical concern.

Fortunately, without getting into these weeds, we are now past the phase of reading the tea leaves, like my theory that this outside funded survey process is part of the plan to justify purging the administration, and can simply observe that whatever processes Ridder is using, they're working, even if it's slower than we'd like.

Anonymous said...

She is not fired, Sara resigned at the END of 2015-2016, She will work closely with Dr. Ridder on the strategic plan. Ain't that a kick in the pants. Ridder thinks admin are good people who have lost their way. If he cannot fire them, maybe giving him the benefit of the doubt is stupid on our part.

Anonymous said...

5:35 AM: What you say flies in the face of everything else we're heard about her and her capabilities, so at minimum a few more details are required for us to possibly believe you.

There's also a difference between officially working on something important, and actually being a part of it as opposed to sitting in a office where no one consults you or invites you to working meetings. She could have worked out a deal where the district is not officially saying anything bad about her, but it's a constructive termination.

Anonymous said...

Next order of business should be to get rid of the scores of butter "veteran" teachers who are dead weight and the new teachers who are clearly in over their head. This is one of the most dysfunctional groups of teachers ever assembled. When Ridder stated the organization was sick, he was also referring to the Joplin teaching staff. It needs eradicated.

Anonymous said...

And the dumbest comment of the year award goes to....

8:25 PM!!!

Congratulations! You must be proud. That level of ignorance doesn't gain much recognition very often. Fine job of displaying your lack of perception and depth. Truly. You can't be outdone, here.

Anonymous said...

7:21: is that really the best you can do? The lack of intelligence and substance in your response confirms that 8:25 is right on the money. While there are many good teachers in Joplin, its true that there are a very large number who need to improve or leave the profession. Now, is this the result of Huff and Bess running off the good teachers? Is it because of them that Joplin school's receive the bottom of the stack applicants? Maybe. But it an absolute fact that, for whatever reason, the staff in the Joplin is subpar. And yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I did work in the Joplin school system.

Anonymous said...

Let's put it this way: after everything we've heard about the Besendorfer/Huff reign of errors, we would be astounded if the current set of teachers in the district weren't overall below average. You can't chase out 1/6th of the teachers a year without there being serious consequences. Ditto being the area's last choice for teaching jobs, when the district has something less than 1/4 of area's population.

Has this resulted in a "sub-par" teaching staff? That I can't say, but I don't think below average can be doubted.